Written by Nancy Kirk
February 7, 2024
The Super Bowl is the most-watched U.S. broadcast of all time. With all eyes on the field this weekend, we thought this would be the perfect time to highlight the prevalence of sleep apnea among football players.
The number is surprisingly high: As many as 34% of NFL lineman have some form of sleep apnea, while up to 19% of NFL players may have the condition.This variation is likely due to the fact that lineman are typically heavier than other players. However, both statistics show a significant increase compared to the general population, where sleep apnea affects about 6% of people. These startling statistics show the need for increased awareness of sleep apnea in football players and athletes as a whole.
Untreated sleep apnea can cause fatigue, brain fog, and poor muscle recovery, which is why the sleep health of athletes is so crucial to their success.
As we celebrate the Super Bowl weekend, let's also shed light on the challenges faced by players after the stadium lights fade and it’s time to rest and recover.
Why Do Football Players Have Sleep Apnea?
You may be wondering why there’s such a high percentage of sleep apnea cases within the football community. This connection is attributed to the wide build common among football players. If you have a neck circumference over 17 inches, you have an increased risk of sleep apnea. Heavier set people also have a higher risk of developing sleep apnea.
Factors That Increase Your Risk of Sleep Apnea
- Weight: Extra weight can lead to blocked airways.
- Genetics: Family history can make someone more susceptible.
- Age: Risk goes up as muscles in the throat weaken with age.
- Lifestyle: Smoking, excessive alcohol, and sedatives relax the airway.
- Gender: Men have a higher risk, although women's risk rises during pregnancy and menopause.
- Medical Conditions: High blood pressure and diabetes are linked to higher risk.
- Neck Circumference: A thicker neck may mean a narrower airway.
The Dangers of Untreated Sleep Apnea
Untreated sleep apnea can lead to increased risk of disease and shortened lifespan. It also causes sleep deprivation and significantly reduces performance ability. Sleep deprivation can be particularly harmful for athletes, from poor reaction time to reduced endurance and slower recovery time.
On the other hand, treating sleep apnea can lead to faster speeds, sharper decision making, fewer injuries, and all around enhanced performance.
Read more about how sleep apnea affects athlete performance.
Football Players with Sleep Apnea
Notable football players with sleep apnea include Ryan Jensen, Adam Brennemen, Nick Hardwick, and Reggie White. Here are their stories:
Ryan Jensen, NFL Player “CPAP Therapy Saved My Career”
Ryan Jensen went from the practice squad to the highest paid football center of all time. He attributes this successful turnaround to his sleep apnea diagnosis. After taking his sleep test, he learned he was only sleeping a true 90 minutes a night, which was seriously hindering his athletic abilities. He started CPAP treatment, and immediately felt stronger and faster with all-around improved performance. Over the next few years, he signed a 4-year 42 million with the Bucs and went on to earn a Super Bowl ring. 2
Adam Brennemen, Former College Football Star
Adam Brennemen is an American football media personality and former player who says CPAP therapy improved his entire life. He’s now partnered with Lofta to raise awareness about sleep apnea.
“I never thought I had sleep apnea. But once I was diagnosed, it all made sense. I was functioning at 60% capacity every day without even knowing it. Since my diagnosis, I have been more alert, attentive and productive. My workouts are better and more intense. I recover faster. I can’t imagine how drastically different my life would be if I wasn’t diagnosed.”
Nick Hardwick, Former San Diego Chargers Player
Nick Hardwick is a former football center who played for the Chargers his entire 11-year career in the NFL. In 2023, Hardwick got diagnosed with sleep apnea with Lofta’s at-home sleep test.
“I prioritize my sleep as much as I do nutrition and exercise. If you aren’t sleeping [well], you’re probably not making good food and exercising decisions. Days are very difficult to get through when you’re tired.”
Honoring The Reggie White Foundation
Football fans across the world were devastated when two-time NFL Defensive Player Reggie White passed away. This was due to cardiac arrhythmia, which was likely caused in part to untreated sleep apnea. His loved ones created The Reggie White Foundation to raise awareness about the serious effects of sleep disorders and to increase access to CPAP treatment.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
- Loud snoring
- Disrupted breathing during sleep
- Restless sleep
- Daytime fatigue
- Morning headaches
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irritability and mood swings
- Dry mouth or sore throat
Get Tested for Sleep Apnea From Home
Take charge of your sleep health and get tested for sleep apnea. With Lofta, there’s no appointment or lab visit necessary. Simply spend the night in your own bed with a simple wearable device, and we’ll determine if CPAP therapy is right for you.